How to Help Your Partner with an Eating Disorder

Friday, Mar 12  •  

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Romantic relationships require honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy from both partners to be healthy and successful, and the very nature of eating disorders erodes these crucial relationship elements. Eating disorders are often a silent disease as communicating the eating disorder struggles you are experiencing can be overwhelming and scary. Verbalizing the thoughts, feelings, and urges arising within one’s mind and body with an eating disorder can be difficult to put into words, let alone verbalize to another individual. 

What You Should Know About Your Partner and Their Eating Disorder

If you are romantically involved with someone struggling with an eating disorder, there are some things you should know about your partner. 

  • Eating disorders are usually not about trying to look good for someone else. Control is often the driving factor. Naturally, we want to be in control of our lives. For individuals with an eating disorder, when other aspects of their lives feel crazy or out of control, they turn to their disordered eating habits. 
  • Your partner is most likely hiding aspects of their eating disorder from you. These aspects are hidden because they fear what the reaction may be when you or anyone else finds out. They fear that they will be rejected or that others will look down on them. Your loved one may decline invitations to social events or shared meals to hide their behaviors from others. 
  • One of the reasons they hide things from you is the shame they feel about their eating disorder. Shame from past events may even be a motivating factor in their eating habits, and while they feel a sense of control in their eating habits, that shame is likely to return in its aftermath. 
  • Shame erodes self-esteem and your partner probably has extremely low self-esteem. While low self-esteem is often a precursor to eating disorders, their self-esteem is further diminished by their eating disorder. 
  • Your partner’s eating disorder is not, ultimately, about their weight. Even if they do reach one of their weight goals, they won’t be pleased when that goal is met. 

How You Can Help Your Partner

If your partner is struggling, it’s understandable for you to feel helpless or overwhelmed, but there are steps you can take to support your partner. 

  • Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your partner’s disorder and clear up any misconceptions you have about it. This will help you better understand what your partner is struggling with. 
  • Be careful with your words. You may not think your comments about their eating habits or weight are harmful, but the reality is that your partner is constantly thinking about these things. Something you say may be a trigger in their eating habits. As you educate yourself on the disorder, educate yourself on what words are helpful and what words aren’t. 
  • Support your partner. When you learn that your partner is struggling, it is easy to become overprotective and worried. You might find yourself questioning every food decision they make, or conversely, avoiding the topic altogether for fear of saying the wrong thing. Instead, try talking to your partner in a nonjudgmental way if you notice them struggling. See if you can get them to open up and be honest with you. Eating disorders thrive in the darkness, so try helping your partner bring it into the light. 
  • Find support for yourself. Finding a support group or trying couples therapy with an eating disorder specialist can provide you and your partner a safe place to talk about your concerns and find new ways to cope with feelings as well as ways to support your partner. 

Through educating yourself and remaining a constant source of support for your partner, you can play a crucial role in their recovery process. Your help through their struggles may even strengthen your relationship. 

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